How I Read Documentation and Grammar Books
Boring technical texts are hard to read. Albeit, they contain information that is necessary to know for many reasons.
It is worth reading in general, even though reading alone is not a good strategy for learning.
How to read boring texts, like grammar books or documentation, to retain more information?
This question appeared to me when I started learning languages and programming frameworks. I have started to think about how could I possibly solve this issue. I did not find a solution until I read about incremental reading and fully understood this concept.
Have a look at Wikipedia definition.
Incremental reading is a software-assisted method for learning and retaining information from reading, which involves the creation of flashcards out of electronic articles. “Incremental reading” means “reading in portions”. Instead of a linear reading of articles one at a time, the method works by keeping a large reading list of electronic articles or books (often dozens or hundreds of them) and reading parts of several articles in each session.
At the first time, I did not see much value in incremental reading. I did not have any use case for me.
Fortunately, one day I saw I could use it for reading German grammar and technical documentation. Those texts are not necessarily linear, and it is an advantage because incremental reading does not work for linear stories.
How do I do that?
The definition of incremental reading says it is a software-assisted method. I adopted Anki to these tasks because I was familiar with this app. I did not want to add another app to the workflow. Anki is a flashcard app, and it supports any card layout. It seemed like a perfect fit.
It turned out that Anki is not perfect for incremental reading. I might create an app well suited for it in the future.
Taking German grammar as an example, I will show you how I prepare materials for reading. It goes as follows:
In the future post, I will share how I use Anki.
The Anki configuration:
- I created the “German Grammar Reading” deck
- I set custom scheduling settings:
- New Cards → Steps: 15 1440 8640
- Lapses → New Interval: 70%
- I added a new Note Type named Reading 1.0 with custom fields Title, Content, Source.
The process of adding new cards:
I found the German Very Easy website, and I copied content to the Anki reading cards.
When I look at such text, I try to imagine how to split it into smaller chunks.
- I put titles from the website and each section in the title field.
- I put section text, trying to split it into small chunks in the content field.
- At the end, I put a link to the website in the source field.
The reading process
Each time I learn German in Anki, I read grammar as well. While reading, I pay attention to the title and then to the content. After reading, I press the green button almost every time.
For documentation, the process is the same.
Many documentation sites are open-sourced and use Markdown format. I created a program that takes markdown files and splits them into smaller chunks by headers. It speeds up the process. I will post about it in the future.
What are the benefits of this approach?
- Thanks to that process, you are more likely to start reading and keep with it.
- You do not have to read everything at once.
- You will read each chunk many times, over an increasing period, and you will benefit from the spacing effect.
- Now you will be able to read many chapters in parallel.
- Your brain 🧠 will process the information over time.
- Encoding information improves further memorization.
- You have the foundation for creating flashcards and start effective learning.
The downside is that you need to know some software that supports spaced repetition, such as Anki. Preparing materials for reading takes too much time. Nevertheless, it is something worth trying. Especially when you need to constantly learn new skills.